Contradiction in a Marxist context refers to the inherent conflict between internal and external forces in every facet of life. Contradiction is the method through which Development happens. This concept, first introduced by Marx, was best summarized by Mao Zedong in the essay, On Contradiction.

According to materialist dialectics, changes in nature are due chiefly to the development of the internal contradictions in nature. Changes in society are due chiefly to the development of the internal contradictions in society, that is, the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, the contradiction between classes and the contradiction between the old and the new; it is the development of these contradictions that pushes society forward and gives the impetus for the supersession of the old society by the new.” – Mao Zedong

From ‘On Contradiction’

There are two worldviews that Marxists need to comprehend—the Metaphysical and the Dialectical.

The metaphysical view is what most Capitalists and Capitalist-ideology supporters believe. This view states that everything that exists, does so in and of itself. Historical development and historical moments are seen as singular and individualistic. From a Metaphysical point of view, change is a result of scale or amount. Both are impacted by external forces.

Example: Think of two countries that have roughly similar geographical features, resources, size, and climate. These two countries display very similar External conditions. These external conditions are not insignificant—But the primary force that develops Society is not external but internal. Simply, it would be the contradictions within society that decide its development. The type of government, the views of the population, the conflicts within the external conditions. Two countries could have very similar external conditions but be fundamentally opposed when considering the stage of social development.

It [materialist dialectics] holds that external causes are the condition of change and internal causes are the basis of change, and that external causes become operative through internal causes. In a suitable temperature an egg changes into a chicken, but no temperature can change a stone into a chicken, because each has a different basis.” – Mao Zedong

From ‘On Contradiction’

Change comes from Contradiction. Mao states that there is a basis of change and a condition of change. Both of these are impacted by Internal and External Conditions. In the example of the egg, the egg has a contradiction inside. There are opposing forces, the yoke, and the chicken. The egg cannot contain both. The Contradiction between the egg and the yoke is the basis of change. Without the contradiction of the yoke and the chicken, there is neither. This contradiction is necessary for both the yoke and chicken to exist.

The Condition of Change is the external condition. At the right temperature, an egg will become a chicken. Therefore, the next contradiction is temperature. The contradiction is that of Hot and Cold (high temp v. low temp). The contradiction of temperature dictates what the condition of change will be to the egg. The condition of hot or cold will turn the egg, based on its contradictions, into either a Yoke or a Chicken—But never a rock.

“Contradictoriness within a thing is the fundamental cause of its development, while its interrelations and interactions with other things are secondary causes. Thus materialist dialectics effectively combats the theory of external causes, or of an external motive force, advanced by metaphysical mechanical materialism and vulgar evolutionism.” – Mao Zedong

From ‘On Contradiction’

To give a contemporary example, policies within a government are passed because of Contradiction. If there is a lack of funding for education, the contradiction is between the amount of money needed to fund the program and the amount of money being spent on funding the program. If the government in question, as a result of this contradiction, decides to increase funding toward the education program—The Contradiction has led to development. This, in its simplest form, is the fundamental basis of the entire world we live in. All things are pushed forward by contradiction.

Contradiction is universal and absolute, it is present in the process of development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end.” – Mao Zedong

From ‘On Contradiction’